Our Moral Sense
“It often happens that a man is more humanely related to a cat or dog than to any human being” -Thoreau.
For centuries, we have thought of ourselves, not as mammals, but as humans, a race that has evolved past that of our sister species. However, this train of thought has led to the expansion of simple character traits into flaws that have enveloped our entire species and now afflicts us all. These flaws become clearly visible under the examination of Mark Twain. In The Lowest Animal, Mark Twain explores how human flaws constitute us as the lowest animals. Throughout his essay, Twain uses experiments (many of questionable legitimacy) and historical evidence to disprove the Darwanistic theory that humans evolved from animals and to substantiate that animals have in fact descended from animals.
4Now, holding personal and philosophical beliefs aside, Twain’s use of seemingly conclusive evidence does hold a moving argument that the theory of evolution is actually reversed; and that even from Twain’s time to present we as a race have devolved even more to be considered a lower animal than the people of Twain’s time. All humans are flawed; though some to a higher degree than others. One of the most evident of human flaws is our inclination to always want more. We are by nature greedy beings as Mark Twain finds evident by his examination of human compared to animal actions. To prove this point Twain recounts the story of a hunting trip in which a group of men, for the entertainment of an English Earl, “killed seventy-two of those [buffalo]; and ate part of one of them and left the seventy-one to rot” (Twain, 470). 4
This does only to prove Twain’s point that humans “wantonly destroy what they have no use for” (Twain, 471) because it is available and we are afraid that if we do not take it someone else will. The same results presented themselves when Twain tested the actions of the English Earl against that of an anaconda. The Earl needlessly killed animals with no intention of using the remains in contrast to the anaconda who, when left alone with seven young calves, kills only one to sate his hunger and poses no serious threat to the remaining calves.
Not only are humans greedy, Twain finds, but humans have distended into a
pit of narcissistic tendencies. To test his theory of human selfishness Twain analyzes the actions of rich men compared to those of the animals. While rich men show “a rabid hunger for more, and [did] not scrupled to cheat the ignorant and the helpless out of their poor servings in order to partially appease that appétit” (Twain, 471), the animals used in the study “made accumulations, but stopped when they had gathered a winter supply, and could not be persuaded to add to it either honestly or by chicane” (Twain, 471). This experiment dose only to prove Twains theory of descendent and disprove the long held theory of evolution. Greed is only one of many flaws that humans have come to possess and even perfect. Take war for example, it is often caused by nationalistic quarrels between one patriot and another.
Twain explains that Man is the only animal that willingly participates in public genocide to protect a piece of land, or a mythical icon not truly known to have existed. His experiments show that animals do not “gathers his brethren about him and go forth in cold blood and with calm pulse to exterminate his kind”(Twain,472) but men have worked for century’s to perfect that ability. Moreover, in doing this man becomes the only animal that “helpless fellow of his country takes possession of it and drives him out of it or destroys him” (Twain, 472). As Twain delves deeper, his experiment concludes that animals fight individually and that humans are the only animals that engage in “organized masses” (Twain, 472). In this, Twain proves that humans are the only animals that group together to thoughtlessly destroy each other with the possibility that they themselves might also be destroyed.
Twain reveals that war is not humanities only issue concerning the individual and throughout all of history, people have been persecuted for holding different beliefs and ideals. This human flaw is never more apparent than is the differences of religion. Using historical evidence, Twain predates religious human prejudice to “the first Richards time [when] he shuts up a multitude of Jew families in a tower and sets fire to it” (Twain, 472).
This mass execution was performs over a religious conflict revolving around a book that supposedly was written at the beginning of humanity. Animals are not susceptible to such foolishness because they have no known religions and there for obviously make less bias decisions than humans.
As Twain concludes his experiments, he concedes that there is only one factor that caused the decadency of humans. Twain reveals that unlike animals, humans are the only species with a “moral sense” (Twain). Moreover, it is this “moral sense” that permits humans “the ability to distinguish good from evil; and with it, the ability to do evil” (Twain). Twain hypothesizes that without this affliction humans “would rise at once to the level of the Higher Animals” (Twain). Nevertheless, because of it man comprises a trait that “is plainly without vale to him” (Twain) that will continue to cause man descent to an even lower animal as the generations pass. Because of the format of this essay twain dose not directly, identify either a main protagonist or antagonist.
Instead, Twain lets the many subjects of his experiments play the roles of antagonist and protagonist, which cause the roles to become very complex. This method of characterization also allow Twain to use his characters to prove his thesis without letting their personal thought create a bias on the topic. In addition, Twain’s human characters all have a very odd similarity. When Twain describes his characters, he describes all of them by their social status or religious preference but not once dose he depict one of them as being below upper class. Since, Twain never gives reason for this, one can only speculate that he uses the social elite to solidify his thesis and give evidence that it is not only the peasants and beggars who commit acts of immorality but that even the best of us are guilty at times.
If it has not become apparent, already you will notice that Twain makes a primary use of male characters in his experiments. Although a strong supporter of women’s rights, for the length of his essay, Twain only addresses the presence of the female sex twice and both times the females are portrayed as victims at the hands of men. By Twain stating that “in our day in England a man is fined ten shillings for beating his mother nearly to death with a chair, and another man is fined forty shillings for having four pheasant eggs in his possession without being able to satisfactorily explain how he got them”(Twain 472) it leaves much to be wondered about the place of women in Twain’s theory because he never fully characterizes a female figure as flawed and the two female examples used are used only to strengthen Twain’s argument that men are the descendents from animals.
This is case because Twain is implying that at this time men felt that women were only equal to that of animals and no better. This makes the reader wonder if Twain is implying that women are in fact not the decedents from animals but that of another species altogether. Now, this could just be a prominent element of the time, but Twain rarely uses a strong female character in his writing preferring to focus on male leads.
Although the element of male characters in Twain’s writing is similar to his other works, and he still maintains his normal form of satire, Twain has abandoned his usual colloquial style for a more formal standard. Unlike what we read in The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, Twain abandons his routine use of dialect for a modern form of literary intellect. Twain also uses a deep almost philosophical insight to enlighten his readers while managing to avoid the use of bias or personal beliefs to sway the reader’s opinions evident by the Twain includes himself in the essay disassociates himself from being either animal or human.
The topic of Twains essay creates many mixed emotions for his readers. Not only does the topic of evolution alone challenge many religious views but Twain also works to disprove a long held theory of human intelligence above that of animals. The experiments Twain performed creates a mood of disbelief coupled with an internal outrage at Twain for having the audacity to write such “hypocrisy” about his own kind.
Humans have for centuries descended through the animal kingdom and have come to a standstill at the bottom of the hierarchy. We have become known as the lowest animal through actions that we ourselves deem inhumane but we as humans’ commit them. The experiments carried out by Mark Twain have clearly proven that is animals have in fact become our superiors in all moral and ethical means.
Our moral sense, a characteristic that most would consider a virtue, has led the human race down a path that has ended in the disgrace of humans and the ascendency of a species that have been and are still thought to be below humans. However, there is still one question that Twain failed to answer through his experiments. Can we as humans ever redeem ourselves in the eyes of our animal sisters and be able to rightly claim that humans are once again the higher animals or are we to parish like other species that were not strong enough to overcome the conflicts happening within their own social structure? As for now, time will only tell.